Where were we?
Not quite on holiday yet, but not working a whole lot either, June was a month of long weekends. The longest of which was five days in La Flèche to visit friends I had befriended on a fortuitous night out in Lyon eleven months earlier (vague details here, for the nosy). A long time in the making, not even the train strikes could stop this reunion going ahead! It was a big trip, and full-on as I was put to work visiting Raph and his wife Gaëlle’s respective schools, giving presentations on NZ to a variety of classes from 6 to 18 years old, with some very specific language goals thrown into the mix. Add to that three young kids, one school production and an Extremely Important Basketball Semifinal and there was never a dull moment. It was such a pleasure to be part of the family, and I definitely settled in pretty quickly. Although it was worlds apart from my usual life, I got pretty used to things and was quite sad to leave! Playing the long game on that one really paid off, despite the improbability of the whole story. I’m confident it won’t be a one-off either!
No sooner was I back from that adventure than I was back off again with the work gang for three days communing with nature in the Drôme department, about 2.5 hours south of Lyon (truly in the wops this time). On the agenda: winding down for the year, enjoying the fresh air and exchanging some very interesting stories…
Aside from that June consisted of end of year meetings, housekeeping, concerts, and, at last, locking in a new job (but more on that in the next post). Such a relief to be able to put an end to the search and reclaim some free time more than anything!
In mid-July work truly wrapped up for the year, and for good for most of our team who came to the end of our contracts. What better way to celebrate than a nice weekend entre collègues? Well, as it turns out, many ways. Hannah and I got roped into trying out ‘riverboarding’ (basically whitewater rafting on body boards) and thanks to one wrong manoeuvre I ended up with a shin the size of a coconut and a lovely haematoma to really complement my outfits all summer. Four months later and I still have a residual lump that hurts if I kneel on it. Sports are fun!
Meanwhile, despite my best attempts to resist and remain a party pooper I ended up getting sucked into football world cup fever, around quarter final stage. I don’t know if we just got lucky with the bar we were in, but the experience shattered my expectations/stereotypes. There was such a great, friendly vibe and camaraderie between total strangers all there for the same purpose, it was amazing to be a part of – I’d never heard anything like when France scored for the first time. Fast forward through the semi final and ultimately the final and it was honestly something I’d never experienced, and I don’t think you could experience in New Zealand. I’m not a sports fan to begin with, but even our biggest rugby fans are really tame/restrained in comparison to European football fans. I can’t even remember what happened after the All Blacks won the world cup at home in 2011 apart from people milling around Courtenay Place? Things were already pretty crazy just after that first quarterfinal game, but the post-final atmosphere was really something else. Karen and I had a bit of a wander (or hobble in my case) to soak up the aftermath in town, which was definitely something to experience, though we scarpered at the first sign of tear gas and firecrackers being unleashed with gay abandon. What was I saying about football fans?
Once I had my new job sewn up in June it was time to throw myself into a new search: flathunting. I got really lucky and things wrapped up there pretty quickly too, only I couldn’t actually move in until the beginning of August. What else to do with two weeks between flats and some genuinely free time at long last but go on holiday of course. Destination:Brittany.Brittany’s been on the agenda for a while and it’s somewhere I’ve never made it to because it’s too far for a long weekend, and I’ve always had a more tempting option when I’ve had some serious holiday time up my sleeve. Well, the fates aligned and it was at last the occasion to head out (north) west. As usual, the idea or opportunity came at pretty short notice, but I went into my usual planning overdrive and things worked out perfectly. On the agenda: Nantes, Rennes, Saint-Malo, Quimper and a quick stop in Paris.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I must preface by clarifying that Nantes is not part of the modern-day region of Brittany (a point of contention). However, it is historically, and the ‘castle of the kings of Brittany’ is there, so I think it’s fair to include in my so-called Breton sojourn. I had just about two full days there and they were absolute scorchers. Fortunately, I was there alone, so my level of caring about sweatiness/sunblockiness was minimal. My time there worked out very well, easily occupying myself with le voyage à Nantes, a summer installation where you can follow a painted route around all sorts of free artistic installations all over the city. Aside from that, I checked out the ‘unmissable’ animatronics workshop, as well as the château, which I didn’t realise was in fact a museum of the history of Nantes/Brittany. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite in the right space of mind to enjoy it to the fullest. I focused my energy on learning about Nantes’ dubious title as a top slave trade destination, something I had been totally ignorant of (and France’s role in general, for that matter).
Rennes is the modern-day capital of Brittany, and the seat of the Breton Parliament. I had a full day actually in the city, and honestly, that was enough. I mostly wandered aimlessly round the place, though I did do an organised tour of both the parliament and street art. While I am incapable of relaying any information I learnt on the first, I do recall it being interesting at the time. The second one, however, was not, for someone who had not too long before been on a street art tour of Barcelona (what was I thinking!). All was not lost though as I had a fantastic airbnb host full of great yarns, and some other guests who were interesting to talk to as well.
One of my days based out of Rennes was dedicated to visiting Saint Malo, a fortified seaside town that several friends are big fans of. I arrived there around 11am, and was not prepared for the somewhat spiritual experience I felt being back by the sea (or really, the ocean) after all this time. I had always heard that Brittany was similar to NZ in terms of climate and ruggedness, and as soon as that sea air, sounds and smells hit I was definitely transported home; wading through the shallows and over rocks and everything. Saint Malo is along the same bay as the Mont Saint Michel (which we of course all know is in Normandy, not Brittany) which has the most extreme tides in Europe, and it was pretty crazy (and scary) to see how quickly it rolled out and back in. I just spent the whole day wandering around the city and the beach, out to the little islands (at low tide) and soaking in the atmosphere. Following a tip from my co-airbnbers I also took a ten minute water taxi across the inlet to Dinard where I wandered round the coastal walkway and further indulged my beachy nostalgia.
If I thought Saint Malo was right in the feels I was naively unprepared for what I was about to encounter in Quimper. Quimper is REALLY out in the western wops of Brittany, but had come up on a few lists of potential destinations. What really sold it to me though was that my projected dates coincidentally lined up with a week-long Breton cultural festival, the Festival de Cornouaille. For the uninitiated, Brittany is a culturally and ethnically Celtic region, that long held out against the Gallic French (ever read Asterix?). While I knew next to nothing about specific Breton culture and heritage, this festival of traditional music and dance hit very close to home for a lifelong Irish dancer. It was the first time I’ve ever really felt a bit sad to be travelling alone, as it would have been really special to share that with some of my dancing family, especially a few of them who are Francophiles aussi. Nonetheless, I did my best to take it all in solo, including braving an electro-bagpipe concert in the pouring rain that literally rained on the parade that was the pièce de la résistance to close out the festival. Degemer mat e Breizh!
From quaint old Quimper I was in for quite the culture shock as I swung by Paris for 48 hours in what was sure to be my last jaunt to get round as many free museums as possible before my cursed 26th birthday. Haematoma be damned, I put in a bloody solid effort trekking all over the place, making it to the Conciergerie (former prison where Marie Antoinette was interned), the (not-free) Grand Palais to see the František Kupka exhibition on its closing day (again – fate); the Architecture/monuments museum, Les Invalides for military history, the Institute for the Arab World and last but certainly not least the towers of Notre Dame. On top of that, I managed to meet up with some Lyon friends who had a few hours in town between trains, AND some Paris-based Kiwi/Breton friends for a lovely dinner. Perfect closure to the trip!
Back I went to Lyon and after what felt like an eternity, August arrived at last which meant I could finally move in to my new flat! No sooner had I done so than my cousin Justine came to visit (perfect timing for 38 degrees the first day, and torrential rain and storms the second), then mum arrived, and I disappeared on family holiday for three weeks. Not exactly the best first impression to make. Luckily, the flatties seem to have forgiven me.
Mum’s arrival kicked off part one of the three-tier family holiday. We descended down through Avignon/Pont du Gard, Perpignan and Collioure to the Costa Brava in Spain: Figueres, Cadaqués and Girona, where we met Papá for part two. Highlights of this leg were:
- swimming in the Gard on a hot summer’s day
- having a personal tour of Perpignan with my friend Guillem who was back home for the holidays
- positively palatial Perpignan airbnb (all the sweeter after sleeping on the floor on a mattress in Avignon – by choice)
- our Collioure visit coinciding with assomption festivities and everyone being in high, musical spirits
- swimming at Collioure – I legit think I hadn’t swum in the sea since my Euro summer in 2013
- slowly finding my groove en español in Figueres
- touring Dalí’s house with his dopplegänger in Cadaqués/ Portlligat
- Food highlights: seeing in my carnivorous holiday binge with costello de porc, an incredibly rich rice dish with squab, and the beginning of Catherine’s croqueta carnival
Leg two of the trip saw us traverse Northern Spain from Catalonia to Basque Country via Andorra, en coche. Highlights: wild horses and NATURE in northern Andorra, street art in an eerily deserted Huesca, unexpectedly top-quality tapas and banter en español in Jaca. Lowlights: mountain road closures and general navigation fun en famille.
Part three saw toda la familia reunited in San Sebastián/Donostia, for what was the first time in a year, and we are pretty sure ten years since we were all on holiday together. We were here for four days/five nights, so it was nice to actually have a solid base, and be able to take things easy.
- staying put in the same place for a solid four days!
- all of the architecture!
- border hopping with a daytrip to France!
- soon followed by…managing to eat fresh vegetables and NO FRIED FOOD two days in a row!
- and on the last day…the sun came out!
- we went to the beach and I frolicked in the waves like a child and had lots more flashbacks to classic NZ summer beach memories that I had apparently forgotten!
The final chapter after San Sebastián was a couple of days in Bordeaux. Total highlight: the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s largest sand dune. It was a bit of a hike to get to, with James and I jumping off the train in Bordeaux and straight onto another one (and then a bus), but totally worth it. I didn’t have long in Bordeaux itself, but I really liked what I saw of the city. While only a brief aperçu, it’s the first comparable city I’ve felt I would enjoy living in outside of Lyon. Just something about the pretty streets.
And with that it was back to Lyon and time to get my life back on track by actually living in my flat and starting my new job at the beginning of September. Since then, it’s been busy busy busy, but all good things…but that’s a story for another blog. The goal: before Christmas! Let’s see if I can do it…
A très vite,